Five Tangible Ways to Move with Grief

In the almost two weeks since my father passed, I've been wondering a lot about how to grieve. I know that it's important to feel my feelings and allow it to be a process. I've heard the road is long but lined with grace. I think it will get really hard at points. But I feel like there should be some better everyday therapies around it all. There's word that's used a lot in Ayurveda called "sneha." It means oily or unctuous. It's also described as the feeling of love and is prescribed in a time of grief. Think about it, what do all of the dry and brittle parts of grief need? Love, love and more love. One Ayurvedic prescription for grief is giving yourself a massage with good oil. It's calming to the nervous system and helps promote deep sleep. Even giving yourself a little foot rub with sesame oil before bed can help ground your emotions.

Here are a few other ideas and practices that have helped:

Dress like someone who takes care of herself : I went to visit my dad in the hospital a lot over the past year. It starting as a standing weekend date--usually on Sundays after I took Poncho running. Closer to the end I went two to four times a week. For each visit I got dressed like I was going to church. I put on a cute skirt or dress, did my make-up and walked out of the house with a nice purse and my head held high. Even though I had to cover myself with a yellow gown + gloves when I went into my dad’s room, getting dressed up made me feel stable on the inside. Feeling together helped me to play the part of someone who could be strong in stressful times, which is what I wanted my dad to see. We were both probably pretending to be stronger and more cheerful than we actually were but we needed every bit of strength we had--forced or not.

Spend some time outside: For the past few years I’ve used my Friday mornings to sit with my meditation teachers. After a cup of chai with that community, I come home and take my dog Poncho for a walk at the Arboretum. The Friday that my dad passed away, I sat with Poncho on the banks of the Anacostia River in late morning. At that point, I knew my dad wasn’t going to make it and I needed to digest what that really meant. The air was sunny fall crisp and the water ran slow and murky to my side. Birds flew across the muddy banks and Poncho lifted his handsome head, attentive to every bit of it. “This is life,” I told myself. Apart from the harsh smells of the cancer wards and my fear of empty space within my family, nature was business as usual. Life and death have never phased her much. It’s pretty much her currency.

Let it be what it needs to be: I mentioned in my last blog post that I had been doing a gentle fall cleanse of whole foods and extra sleep the week before my dad died. I'd been up early each morning, whispering prayers for my dad. I was clean and light and felt spiritually present to the process of saying goodbye. But in the moment, the cleanse went out the window. Dizzy, I drank a ginger ale while I held my dad’s hand. Later, after it all had passed, I was suddenly very, very hungry. I almost never eat in the evenings but that night I ate piece after piece of cheesy pizza while sitting on my brother’s couch. I drank the strongest beer I’ve ever tasted and watched comedy central. Earlier in the week I would have thought to spend the night meditating. In the moment, pizza and beer with my brother seemed far more appropriate.

Recognize you've gone through something traumatic: Trauma is taxing. Trauma is dehydrating. I’ve been drinking so many cups of tea, giving myself oily foot massages and going to sleep very close to 9pm. I haven't dreamt anything prolific but I wake up rested in the dark morning. I use the silence--even Poncho is still asleep--and sit. I listen and breath and feel constriction in my body. My father is there with me in strange and comforting ways. All the reality/life/death/connection lines are blurred and I like it that way. I have no craving for normal right now.

Steal grieving techniques from cultures who aren’t afraid of death: I spent last Halloween photographing a wedding in Oaxaca, Mexico during their Dia de los Muertos festival. Each home and business had a colorfully decorated altar celebrating those who had passed in their families. The dead were honored by coronas stuffed with limes and plates of their favorite foods. People spent the nights around Halloween hanging out in graveyards, lighting candles and singing songs for their relations. The vibe was way more peaceful than morbid and I was touched by the displays. The day after his passing, I made an altar for my dad. On it, I put photographs of us together, the hat he wore during chemo and a tiny rosary made out of rope. Later in the week, I added a bottle of vodka--a gift from a friend. When I miss him, I light the candle and speak to him like I’m calling him on the phone,  just like I did for so many days when he was in the hospital. The ceremony of it all makes it sad by okay to hold him so close still.